LAST NIGHT ON EARTH by Bill T. with Peggy Gillespie Jones


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The current baddest boy of postmodern dance offers a passionate, uneven as-told-to autobiography. Now at the center of an aesthetic/moral debate on the value of ""victim art"" (as New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce characterized Jones's recent piece, Still/Here), the HIV-positive choreographer is actually more commanding for his dances than for any inadvertent role in cultural polemics. Parts of the book show why: Jones, cofounder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and a recent MacArthur ""genius"" award recipient, knows how to use anger as a kind of intelligence. He's not just smart--he's unbridled, presumably a prerequisite for the rise of a gay, Florida-born son of African-American migrant farmworkers to the top of a notoriously demanding profession. Jones began to study dance while a SUNY, Binghamton, undergraduate. His first-person narrative, penned with the assistance of freelance writer Gillespie, credits much of his subversive strength to his family; portraits of his mother and grandmother (""a Himalayan tiger pacing the streets of Brooklyn"") are especially vivid. Also oddly heartening are his accounts of gay bathhouse sex in pre-AIDS New York City, which evoke a giddy, Alice-in-Wonderland freedom. Still, the memoir's point is for the 42-year-old Jones to confront life knowing that it may end too soon. Perhaps as a result of this knowledge, the second half feels rushed, covering a lot of ground (national politics, dancemaking, personal crises) too briefly. Moreover, readers who haven't seen Jones's dances won't gain much from his descriptions; except for a fascinating, blow-by-blow account of Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land, they're overly cerebral and awkwardly written. By contrast, his chronicle of caring for lover and artistic collaborator Zane, who died in 1988, is tenderly realistic. A courageous yet curiously incomplete self-examination.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1995
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Pantheon